More so than most genres, romantic comedies demand that their audience check their preconceived notions of sensibility at the door, instead adopting a wide-eyed innocence in the face of true love. For Jonathan Levine (director of such underappreciated gems as Warm Bodies and 50/50), the solution for doing so lies in anchoring the story in just enough of a sliver of reality to be recognizable, but not so much that the viewer mistakenly takes it at face value. Leaning hard into the fantasy, this reverse Pretty Woman update plays it light and loose with believability as it tosses realism out the window, and it’s all the better for it. Caught somewhere between Dave and Notting Hill, the delightfully charming Long Shot walks a delicate tightrope to function effectively as both a raunchy, odd-couple romance and a whimsical (and occasionally cutting) political satire for the Trump era.
Workaholic Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is lining up all the proper channels to announce her candidacy for the highest office in the land, even earning the support of the sitting President of the United States (Bob Odenkirk). However, when she bumps into freshly unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), whom she used to babysit as a teenager, she sends her campaign into a whirlwind by deciding to hire him as a speechwriter. It isn’t long before their contradictory pairing gives way to a budding romance.
Unlike most wide release comedies, a tremendous amount of effort clearly went into polishing Dan Sterling (The Interview) and Liz Hannah’s (The Post) script. It’s clear that a lot of time was spent punching up these jokes, and so they don’t simply settle for low-hanging fruit. With its creative bits and sugary sweet sentiments, Long Shot constantly bombards the viewer with a parade of humor, but rarely to the point of exhaustion. Levine steadily finds inventive ways to make the most of his enormously talented supporting cast, particularly scene-stealer O’Shea Jackson Jr.
As is to be expected, Charlize Theron works wonders as the film’s not-so-secret weapon. She sells the dramatic moments, of course, but Arrested Development fans will rejoice as she also flexes the underutilized humorous side she is rarely given license to display. Proving once again her aptitude for shouldering any task asked of her, she is able to play the huge, broad comedic bits (an MDMA-fueled hostage negotiation, for example) while also serving as the emotional backbone of the movie. Theron is obviously having a ball playing against type, but she still carries with her all of the grace and charm on an A-list Hollywood starlet.
What’s more, and here’s the real kicker, you actually believe her and Seth Rogen as an item, which is certainly not an easy pitch to sell. The relationship between Charlotte and Fred is the glue that holds the rest of the film together, and it’s surprisingly sturdy. On paper, their connection would test even a genre that already demands more than a healthy suspension of disbelief, but the pair have organic chemistry that revitalizes the dusty opposites-attract trope by prioritizing bona fide characterization and simply allowing these two to play off one another’s strengths.
No one would accuse Long Shot of being a flawless film (the narrative could stand to be significantly tighter), but it’s an absolute blast to watch while boasting an enormous amount of heart. There are seedlings of loftier conversations about workplace gender politics and the woes of the campaign trail, but this film is grandiose escapism, pure and simple. It hits all of the gleeful beats that keep us returning to our favorite rom-coms and reminds us how enchanting it feels to give ourselves permission to fall in love with love, however implausible it may be.